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Page 6,                Issue 5, Volume VI,             18 March, 2014

In search of Caprivi’s roots

The Slovenians were, for centuries, politically subjugated to 

numerically much more powerful neighbors and were subsequently 

relatively unknown to the world. As such, they have sometimes 

been stereotyped by writers, journalists and politicians of dominant 

nations as a “people without history,” a “people of servants” and, 

in some instances even as “Schiavi,” which for some came to be 

synonymous with slaves. As anyone familiar with the consequences 

of victimization will easily understand, as victims of such stereotypes, 

quite a number of Slovenians have frequently humbly accepted 

them, which was particularly noticeable in the beautiful prose of Ivan 

Cankar (1876-1918) and in the poetry of Simon Jenko (1835-1869).   

Thus, any mention of Slovenians in important leadership positions 

has often been met by skepticism or ridicule.  Could members of a 

tiny, unknown Slovenian people, or persons with Slovenian roots, 

ever become important leaders of great powers - even of the most 

powerful state in Europe?

This is why, writing about Caprivi, we emphasize the Austrian, 

German, and English documentation.  As far as I know, it is also true 

that no Slovenian researcher or writer researched, or wrote about, 

Caprivi prior to our Slovenian Research Center of America. There 

is no mention of him as Kopriva or Caprivi in the Slovenski biografski 

leksikon (Slovenian Biographic Lexicons, 1925-1991).  Enciklopedija 

Slovenije (Encyclopedia of Slovenia, 1987), if properly informed, should 

list Caprivi between its entries of “Cankarjev partizanski bataljon” 

and “Capuder, Andrej,” yet there is no such listing. Similarly, Luc 

Menaše’s monumental Svetovni biografski leksikon (World Biographical 

Lexicon, 1994), while listing 27.277 entries, has nothing on Count 

Kopriva, while the entry about Chancellor Caprivi does not 

mention his Slovenian roots, contrary to the established practice 

in presentation of expatriated Slovenians.  This suggests that the 

compilers of leading Slovenian reference works were unaware of 

Caprivi’s Slovenian ancestry. Hopefully, this will gradually be 


How did we fi nd out about the Slovenian origin of Caprivi? This 

has happened only thanks to Lado Kham, a retired, and by brutal 

communist beatings partly disabled, construction engineer and 

a close friend of the world-famous architect Joseph Plečnik. Lado, 

whom the communists tortured and dispossessed after the Second 

World War on a completely mistaken suspicion that he was spying 

for the British (yes, you read this correctly), was a prolifi c  volunteer 

research associate of our Slovenian Research Center of America. He 

regularly sent us important clippings, addresses and leads. Once, 

he mailed us a copy of Steirische Berichte (Styrian Reports, 1965).  

There, Helfried Patz , an Austrian author, contrary to all expectations, 

published a short Slovenian-friendly essay under the title, “Geshenke 

der Slowenen an die Welt” (The Gifts of Slovenians to the World), 

precisely the area in which I was particularly interested ever since 

June 1951 when, as a student and construction laborer, I was 

ceaselessly challenged by my fellow-laborers to show them a single 

Slovenian who had ever accomplished anything of note.

In Berichte, Patz  also reported that Ott o von Bismarck’s successor, 

Leo von Caprivi, the second chancellor of Germany, was a descendant 

of Slovenian peasant stock from Koprivnik, Lower Carniola, and 

his ancestors were named Kopriva (meaning nett le).  The earliest 

ancestor mentioned was Andreas (Andrej, Andrew) Kopriva (born 

in 1570) who distinguished himself fi ghting against the invading 

and pillaging Turks, was knighted and received the title Freiherr von 

Nesseltal (Baron from Nett levalley, an approximate translation of 

Koprivnik). When Andrew Kopriva married Sophie Chawolowska, 

he acquired the estates of Širje (Scheuern) and Zidani most 

(Steinbruck) in Central Slovenia. Their sons, Andrew and Johann 

Franz Kopriva, were in turn ennobled in 1653 and acquired the name 

Caprivi.  The off spring intermarried with other nobility (including 

Caprara de Montecuccoli) and moved to various locations in Austria, 

Silesia and Germany. The most famous descendant of the Slovenian 

Kopriva stock, Leo von Caprivi, the state chancellor of Germany, 

was therefore, according to Patz , a Slovenian gift to Germany.  

But, was Patz  right? I have from time to time received some 

misleading leads and was well aware I had to be very careful. But 

thanks to our Slovenian associate Kham and the Austrian author 

Patz , I was able to start the painstaking research on Leo von Caprivi 

in order to either confi rm or reject Patz ’s claim. Litt le by litt le, many 

respectable sources confi rmed Caprivi’s Slovenian origin.

Let me here mention James Wycliff e Hedlam-Morley, the late 

Leo von Caprivi, State Chancellor of Germany

Descendant of Slovenian ancestors Kopriva,


as documented in Austrian, German and English sources by Edward Gobetz.

A view of Koprivnik in Lower Carniola. 

(photo by Vili Kremžar)

Berlin in 1890s.

fellow of King’s College at Cambridge, England. He wrote on page 

820 of the fourth volume of Encyclopedia Britannica (1942): “Caprivi 

family springs from Carniola and the name was originally Kopriva.” 

Perhaps most importantly, in the book, Die Reden des Grafen von 

Caprivi  (The Speeches of Count von Caprivi), its German editor, Rudolf 

Arndt, writes that Caprivi’s family “originated in Krain” (as it was 

in Caprivi’s time customary to refer to much of Slovenia) and the 

“original name of his  ancestors was Kopriva.” This “confi rmation” of 

Caprivi’s origin is of special importance since the book of his speeches 

was published in 1894, when Caprivi was still state chancellor 

of Germany and had 

undoubtedly consented 

that his Carniolan, or 

Slovenian, origin be 

indicated. He obviously 

did not forget or deny his 

ancestral roots.

As I briefl y 

summarized in the book 

Slovenian Heritage (1980, 

three printings), it was, 

therefore, clear that 

respectable Austrian, 

German and British 

State Chancellor Leo von Caprivi

18 March, 2014,           Volume VI,  Issue 5                Page 7

sources agreed on the Carniolan (Slovenian) ancestry of the 

Chancellor. Once elevated to nobility, his ancestors intermarried 

with other noble families, acquired various estates and enjoyed 

great prestige.  The father of the Chancellor, Julius Leopold Eduard 

von Caprivi, held a high judicial post and was made a life member 

of the Prussian House of Lords. He also wrote religious poetry. 

Leopold’s brother, Raimond von Caprivi, was Lieutenant General in 

the Prussian army. (See Heinrich Ott o Meisner, “Der Reichskanzler 

Caprivi,” Zeitschrift für die gesamte Staatswisenschaft/Journal of 

Institutional and Theoretical Economics, Berlin, 1955, pp. 669-752; and 

German-language Wikipedia).  

Life and Achievements of Leo von Caprivi

Leo von Caprivi was born in 1831 in Charlott enburg (now a 

part of Berlin). He completed his gymnasium studies in Berlin and 

after his maturity exam in 1849 joined the Kaiser Franz Grenadier 

Regiment Number 2. He distinguished himself in peace and in war 

and rapidly rose through the ranks. By 1865 he was a member of the 

General Staff  and, during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 was 

named Chief of Staff  of the Tenth Army Corps and contributed to 

the German victory. In the words of American historians Edward 

McNall Burns and Philip Lee Ralph, as early as age 39, he won 

fame as chief of staff  of the Tenth Army Corps that bore the brunt 

of fi ghting in the decisive Orleans Campaign of the Franco-Prussian 

War of 1870 which “destroyed one empire (that of Napoleon III) and 

created another” (Bismarck’s Germany. See World Civilizations, 3rd ed., 

Vol. II, 1964, p. 253).

Caprivi, decorated with the Order of Merit, held after the war 

several leading positions in the Army and in the Ministry of War, 

after 1878, also as Division Commander. Because of his organizing 

and administrative ability, he was transferred in 1883 to the Navy 

and given the rank of vice admiral. He led the German Admiralty 

until 1888 and believed that the Navy should play only a defensive 

role, while German Emperor Wilhelm II wanted to make it a tool 

of German expansionism, competing for leadership with the British 

naval might. Thus, Caprivi was transferred again and, at age 51, 

became the commanding general of the Tenth Army Corps. His fame 

as a military strategist and hero was such that, at that time, even 

Bismarck admired him and referred to him as “the best horse in the 

military stable.” 

Indeed, Bismarck, the Iron Chancellor, in 1890, proposed him to 

Emperor Wilhelm II (1859-1941) as his successor in the position of 

prime minister of Prussia, the leading state of Germany, not knowing 

that the Emperor had already asked Caprivi to succeed Bismarck 

not only as prime minister of Prussia, but also as state chancellor of 

entire Germany. On Bismarck’s resignation, Caprivi, the descendant 

of Slovenian peasants, on March 20, 1890, became prime minister of 

Prussia and the imperial chancellor of Germany,  which was at that 

time, according to American historians Burns and Ralph, “the most 

powerful state on the Continent” (Western Civilizations, 1947, p. 788).

What kind of state chancellor was Caprivi? Agatha Ramm, 

Fellow of Somerville College, Oxford, England, points out that 

Caprivi, as Chancellor, “was a lesser man than Bismarck, but no fool 

and no man’s tool. He was a man of honor, upright simplicity and 

independence. He had courage and was not defl ected by sentiment 

or ambition” (Agatha Ramm, Germany 1789-1919: A Political History

1967, p. 376).

Caprivi initiated a policy of reform, having released projects 

which Bismarck’s distrust of change had held back. He launched a 

series of trade treaties, beginning with the lowering of the corn duties 

in 1891, which aroused the bitt er opposition of the great landowners 

east of the Elbe River and provoked the founding, in 1893, of the 

Agrarian League. By December 1891, his trade treaties with Austria, 

Facsimile of page one of Die Reden des 

Grafen von Caprivi where the author, Rudolf 

Arndt, states: “actually the family came from 

Krain (Carniola, Slovenia) and originally its 

last name was Kopriva.”

Count Leo von Caprivi

General Caprivi strolling in Berlin.

Caprivi Strip in Africa 

Italy, Switz erland and Belgium 

were passed in the Reichstag 

(National Diet or Parliament) 

by the overwhelming majority 

of 343 votes to 48. Treaties with 

Romania (also Roumania or 

Rumania) and Serbia followed 

in 1893 and with Russia in 1894.  

Caprivi’s preference for industrial 

development over agriculture 

laid the basis for Germany’s 

subsequent industrial might.

Caprivi also promoted more 

liberal, protective legislation for 

labor (Arbeitershutz gesetz  of June 

1891) and introduced eminently 

successful tax reforms. His at-

tempts to reform the German edu-

cational system had failed and the 

school question was not resolved 

until 1919. A former General, 

Caprivi reformed the German 

army, reducing the period of ser-

vice from three to two years, while 

raising the strength of the army by 

84.000 men. In foreign policy, he 

masterminded the Triple Alliance 

of Germany, Austria-Hungary, 

and Italy. He secured relaxation 

of repression of Polish minorities, 

pointing out that the Poles under 

Germany should be allowed and 

encouraged to learn Polish and 

that even Germans in border re-

gions should have an opportunity 

to learn both languages, since “it 

is always bett er to know two lan-

guages than one” — a 

remarkably progressive 

policy in 1890s! (He him-

self also spoke French 

and English fl uently.)  He 

greatly improved Germa-

ny’s relations with Eng-

land. As early as 1890, 

he concluded the Treaty 

of Heligoland, granting 

Zanzibar to Great Britain 

in exchange for Heligo-

land, the German gem in 

the North Sea. (Ramm, 

pp. 380-384).  He negoti-

ated for Germany the Caprivi Strip, about 400 kilometers long, or 

close to 300 miles, which perpetuated the name of the Slovenian-

stock chancellor of Germany on the continent of Africa until 2013 

when Namibia renamed it the Zambeze Region.  (Interestingly, there 

is a small agricultural community in Cumberland County, Pennsyl-

vania, named Caprivi, while Caprivi Kennels are popular breeding 

show dogs in South Australia.)

While a believer in constitutional monarchy based on Christian 

principles, Caprivi developed a supra-party administration, which, 

together with his “New Course” policies alienated much of his need-

ed political party support. Vested economic interests fought bitt erly 

against his reforms and trade treaties. He also had to contend with 

the increasing venom from his earlier admirer, Bismarck, who had 

been elected to the Reichstag in 1891 and disagreed with Caprivi’s 

policies.  Finally, the Emperor, in 1894, demanded a strict anti-revo-

lutionary law against anarchists, Social Democrats, and trade unions.

According to Ramm (p. 388), Caprivi showed “great wisdom… 

but he had lost the power to do what was right.” The Emperor 

dismissed him on October 28, 1894. Unmarried and continuing to 

live a simple, Spartan life, Caprivi, a former general, admiral and 

State Chancellor of Germany, died at Skyren, near Crossen on the 

Oder, close to the Polish border, on February 6, 1899, at the age of 68. 

His biographer, Georg Gotheim, concluded his book, Reichskanzler 

Graf Caprivi (1918), with the following words: “He was a statesman 

of great vision and a man of honor in every regard.”  

P.S. Angela Merkel, the current chancellor of Germany, is the 

34th successor of Caprivi.

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